Book Review: Damned

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

“‘Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison,’ declares the whip-tongued thirteen-year-old narrator of Damned, Chuck Palahniuk’s subversive new work of fiction. The daughter of a narcissistic film start and a billionaire, Madison is abandoned at her Swiss boarding school over Christmas while her parents are off touting their new projects and adopting more orphans. She dies over the holidays of a marijuana overdose–and the next thing she knows, she’s in Hell. Madison shares her cell with a motley crew of young sinners that is almost too good to be true: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, and a punk rocker…

*I received a copy of the book from BEA.

Damned is Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel, which will be released in October of this year. I was one of the lucky people to meet Chuck Palahniuk at BEA and get a signed advance copy of the book.

The story is about a 13-year-old girl named Madison Spencer, who has died and gone to Hell after supposedly overdosing on marijuana. According to Madison, there are a lot of reasons people go to Hell: using the word “ain’t”, fixing a fallen-down hem with a safety pin, even buttering bread before breaking it.

Chuck Palahniuk is a master of dark humor, and Damned is an exceptional example. The book is like a combination of The Breakfast Club meets Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. According to an interview, Chuck studied Judy Blume so as to mimic her style of writing in this story.

Every few chapters we learn more about Madison’s past and how she ended up in Hell. The whole story is full of twists and each character ends up being more layered than they initially seem.

Although Madison is 13, she is a very precocious child, and Damned is very much an adult book. Madison is such a great character. She’s astute, self-deprecating at times, and she grows from a loner, slightly stuck-up girl to a courageous leader of the underworld.

“Are you there, Satan? It’s me, Madison. Don’t take the following as a scolding. Please regard what I’m about to say as strictly constructive feedback. On the plus side, you’ve been running one of the largest, most successful enterprises in the history of…well, history. You’ve managed to grow your market share despite overwhelming competition from a direct, omnipotent competitor. You’re synonymous with torment and suffering. Nevertheless, if I may be bluntly honest, your level of customer service skills really suck.”

All souls in Hell end up in dirty cages, where they have the option of resigning themselves to their fate for all eternity—waiting for the occasional demon to rip them to pieces and then be put back together again—or finding their way to the equivalent of downtown in Hell—where they can work as telemarketers calling people on earth and asking them mundane questions in an attempt to keep them from their dinners.

Through the help of her newfound friends—the popular girl Babette, the jock Patterson, the nerd Leonard, and the punk Archer—Madison makes it to the main part of Hell, where she ends up recruiting a record number of souls. SPOILER ALERT: In the end, Madison used her recruits to start a large army, which she will eventually have to use against Satan to defeat him and claim her life as her own, after she finds out that he created her and wrote her life story. The book ends with a “To be continued…” but the last image is of Madison hurrying to find Satan, which is akin to Judd Nelson frozen in mid-air at the end of The Breakfast Club.

Chuck Palahniuk has made Hell graphic, twisted, funny, and occasionally gross. If you’re into dark humor, I definitely recommend reading Damned. 


Genre: Historical Fiction

Published: October 2011 by Knopf Doubleday, Random House, 256 pages

ISBN: 9780385533027

Buy: $24.95    


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